CALLS have been made for a campaign to encourage visitors to Shropshire to respect the countryside and the people who live there.

The plea, from Bishop’s Castle Councillor Ruth Houghton, comes after the county’s beauty spots were plagued with inconsiderate parking and antisocial behaviour in the weeks after the nationwide lockdown was eased.

Councillor Houghton has urged Shropshire Council and other agencies to set aside funding for a new campaign to promote the Countryside Code, the government guidance on how to enjoy the outdoors responsibly.

Speaking at a meeting of the council’s place overview committee, Councillor Houghton said: “Since lockdown has eased across the country, we are experiencing large numbers of visitors to beauty spots in Shropshire by people who appear keen to enjoy and access our lovely countryside.

“While visitors are very welcome and essential to our local economy, the impact unfortunately in some areas of the county has been tarnished by litter, damage to verges and paths, parking in field gateways and dogs off leads around livestock.

“How are Shropshire Council and partner agencies including the NFU, National Trust, Natural England, Visit Shropshire and the AONB, among others, address these issues and at the same time allocate a budget for a publicity and promotion campaign of the Countryside Code, while also welcoming responsible visitors?”

Claire Featherstone, the council’s culture, leisure and tourism manager, said it was difficult to police people’s behaviour in such a way and to such a large scale.

Ms Featherstone said: “While we understand the concern and inconvenience caused to landowners, it’s not clear how the issues might be addressed.

“The Countryside Code is advisory rather than statutory, and enforcement of many of the recommendations is not possible.

“The rights of way network must be accessible and with 6,500 kilometres in Shropshire – which in a straight line would span the Atlantic from Shrewsbury to New York – policing is not practical.

Ms Featherstone said there was an ongoing social media campaign and other options including the distribution of posters promoting the Countryside Code could be considered.

She added: “Any ideas about other practical action that could be taken would be welcomed.”

The NFU’s regional director for the West Midlands, Robert Newbery, was also present at he virtual meeting and said there had been an increase in people wanting to get out and enjoy the countryside during and after lockdown.

Mr Newbery said the NFU had been communicating to its members and the public using a variety of mediums to stress the importance of responsible use of the countryside, including reminding landowners about their duty to monitor footpaths.

Mr Newbery added: “We have got quite an extensive communication network to hopefully allow the public to enjoy footpaths responsibly and minimise or prevent damage to farmland which can be caused when people stray away from footpaths or use gates and other things inappropriately.”